Over the past 40 years, who are the best MLB managers and general managers? I recently explored this question in an academic piece published in Managerial and Decision Economics. Of course, one could just take winning percentage or championships won, but where managers have taken over successful teams, continuing that success is not as impressive as turning a team around. In addition, some franchises, such as the Yankees, are located in large metropolitan areas and given league revenue sharing practices, can turn this population base into a big financial advantage. Finally, managerial relationships are hierarchical — the owner answers for everybody, the general managers, typically, makes roster decisions with managers making on-the-field decisions. The methods that I employed took account of all of these issues using data from 1970-2011.
Interestingly, in comparing managers with GMs, the latter didn’t matter much prior to the 1990s. Or, at least, very little difference existed between GMs so that one was just as valuable as another. In the 1990s onward in the “Moneyball” era with much more attention paid to predictive characteristics of performance by some GMs rather than simply how players look in their uniform or the most obvious physical attributes, the general manager role exceeded that of managers in terms of explaining winning and losing.
Top 10 Managers:
- Bobby Cox (Toronto, Atlanta)
- Danny Murtaugh (Pittsburgh)
- Walter Alston (Los Angeles)
- Earl Weaver (Baltimore)
- Danny Ozark (Philadelphia, San Francisco)
- Tony LaRussa (Chicago AL, Oakland, St. Louis)
- Davey Johnson (Cincinnati, Baltimore, New York NL, Los Angeles, Nationals)
- Sparky Anderson (Cincinnati, Detroit)
- Joe Torre (Atlanta, New York AL, Los Angeles)
- Jerry Manual (Chicago AL, New York NL)
Honorable Mention: Ron Gardenhire, Dick Williams, Terry Francona, Dusty Baker
With the recent retirement of Tony LaRussa, none of the Top 10 are still active. Among the active managers, Gardenhire, Fancona, and Baker head the list.
Top 10 General Managers
- Brian Cashman (New York AL)
- Bob Howsam (Cincinnati)
- John Schuerholz (Atlanta)
- Theo Epstein (Boston)
- Joe Burke (Kansas City)
- Joe Brown (Pittsburgh)
- Paul Owens (Philadelphia)
- Walt Jocketty (St. Louis)
- Al Campanis (Los Angeles)
- Haywood Sullivan (Boston)
Honorable Mention: Dan Duquette, Ron Schueler, Joe Gariagiola, Pat Gillick
A natural reaction to this list might be “Cashman has all the money to spend — no wonder he’s on top. However, his individual contribution and ranking already takes account of the size of the Yankees’ market as well as taking over a team already enjoying a degree of success. On the other hand, given that Theo Epstein is still active and his new team, the Cubs, are not faring so well, at least so far, his ranking would likely fall with expanded data.
There are some caveats, naturally: individuals whose careers overlap 1970 do not have their whole performance taken into account. At the time of compiling the data, I didn’t have GM data farther back. Even with such data, the comparability of the league over time diminishes.
Here is a link to a draft version of the article on which these results are based.
Correction: A commenter raised a question about Billy Beane, the Oakland GM of Moneyball fame. I rechecked my results. He should have been listed 7th among GMs. An oversight on my part.